Numbers are up for summer programs at both Oak Brook GC and Sunset Hills CC in Edwardsville, Ill. Oak Brook’s PGA Junior Golf League program has 145 players on 12 teams, easily surpassing 2019’s record. Sunset Hills’ PGA summer camps are sold out for three straight weeks, with the club taking advantage of its new indoor practice facility to still have activity, no matter what the weather. “There have been a lot of baseball camps and soccer camps that have been canceled, so the parents have contacted us, and we’ve gotten their kids into our junior programs,” says Jon DePriest, Sunset Hills’ Director of Golf.
The junior golf scene in Edwardsville, Ill. is a little different this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Mike Suhre, Head Golf Professional at Oak Brook Golf Club in Edwardsville, is happy to be playing, The Edwardsville Intelligencer reported.
The coronavirus outbreak delayed the start of the PGA Junior Golf League at both Oak Brook and Sunset Hills Country Club in Edwardsville, but the league and other junior programs at both courses are up and running, The Intelligencer reported.
“In golf, we’re lucky that we can usually social distance, but we had to make sure that we are as safe as we can possibly be,” said Suhre. “I’ve already run 48 practices and 40 matches. We’ve been really busy, but we’ve been keeping groups small.”
Young golfers at Oak Brook were anxious to get out and play this summer, The Intelligencer reported.as shown by the continuing popularity of the PGA Junior Golf League, which has 145 players on 12 teams. That easily surpasses the previous record of 120 players on 10 teams set last year.
“This is the first year where we are doing a ‘house league,’ where our teams all stay here and play each other on our home course,” said Suhre. “We had already planned on doing it before the pandemic, so it’s just a coincidence, but it’s really worked out well.
“Most of the other courses are also doing house leagues, but there is a little bit of travel,” he added. “A couple of my teams will travel to other courses, but that’s basically extra stuff.”
The PGA Junior Golf League at Sunset Hills is down to 24 players on four teams this year, The Intelligencerreported, after having 56 players on four teams last year. Jon DePriest, the club’s PGA director of Golf, attributes the drop to the timing of the pandemic.
“The first couple months were delayed, and the national events were all canceled,” DePriest said. “We were also due to host the regionals for Drive, Chip and Putt this year and that was canceled nationwide.
“The upside is that with people not traveling as much this summer, they are coming out and enjoying the club. We have a lot of members here every year, including a lot of junior players.”
The numbers for other junior golf programs at Sunset Hills, though, are up from last year. “There have been a lot of baseball camps and soccer camps that have been canceled, so the parents have contacted us, and we’ve gotten their kids into our junior programs,” DePriest said. “We have a PGA summer camp with four-day sessions [Tuesday through Friday] starting July 14, July 21 and July 28, and we’re completely sold out with for three straight weeks with 25 kids for each camp.”
At Oak Brook, the big draw is still the PGA Junior Golf League, The Intelligencer reported. Under the league format, there are eight to 12 players on a team and each team will play five to six matches throughout the summer. A scramble format is used, with two teammates facing two golfers from the other team.
Other are courses participating in the league, The Intelligencer reported, include The Legacy Golf Course and Arlington Greens Golf Course in Granite City, Ill., Far Oaks Golf Club in Caseyville, Ill., Rolling Hills Golf Club in Godfrey, Ill., Spencer T. Olin Golf Course in Alton, Ill. and St. Clair Country Club in Belleville, Ill.
“Everything that we do feeds off the junior league, so I started a summer-long match play tournament where two kids can pair up with each other and play against two other kids,” Oak Brook’s Suhre said. “I had 44 teams and 88 players sign up, and I thought I might get 20 kids.”
The junior golfers at Oak Brook seem to be enjoying the league as well, The Intelligencer reported. Michael McNamara, 10, and Luca McNamara, 8, the sons of Pat McNamara, head coach of the Edwardsville Wrestling Club, were among the junior league golfers playing matches on a Tuesday night.
“When I was younger, I got these golf clubs and my dad took me out just to putz around. A few years after that, I started doing junior league and it turned out to be fun,” Michael said.
“It’s basically about having fun and just hitting a ball and trying to make it into the hole. I just started, but I think I’m doing OK,” Luca added.
Owen Wilkinson, who turns 9 on July 24, has been playing in the junior league for almost two years, The Intelligencer reported. On Tuesday night, he was on the driving range at Oak Brook, ready to start another league match.
“I like that you get to come out here and play with other people and have fun,” Wilkinson said. “I had played a little golf before, but I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better.”
All the regional and national postseason events for the PGA Junior Golf League have been canceled, The Intelligencer reported, including the national championship, which was slated for October 8-11 in Scottsdale, Ariz. Instead, Oak Brook will host the Gateway Championship on August 9.
“There will be teams of eight players, but it will be a little different format to keep the kids safe,” Suhre said. “There will be winners of that event, but it will be the last step of the postseason.”
Junior golfers are also taking advantage of the new Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Harry Gallatin Golf Practice Facility, which is located at Sunset Hills, The Intelligencer reported (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/sunset-hills-cc-partners-university-new-golf-practice-facility/). The 1,840-sq. ft. facility, which opened with a dedication ceremony in December 2019, has three hitting bays, an indoor putting green and a golf training simulator room.
“On hot days, we can take the little kids in there and they can putt while enjoying the air conditioning,” DePriest said. “It’s kind of the central base for the summer camps that we do.”
The biggest junior program at Sunset Hills this year is the Tiny Tour, which is held from 1-2 p.m. on Sundays, The Intelligencer reported. Most of the 36 golfers are 4 to 6 years old, but a few are younger.
“I’ve been here 21 years and we’ve done it every year,” DePriest said. “I found a picture the other day of [former Edwardsville High School golfers] Bensen Tyrrell and Luke Babington from that program, and now they are college age.”